The Quotable Thanissaro

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
dhammapal
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Sun Mar 19, 2017 11:58 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Back in the 19th century when Westerners were beginning to read some of the Buddhist texts, and all saw was suffering, death, aging, illness, As a result, they wrote Buddhism off as a very pessimistic religion. But when they went to Asia, they saw that Buddhists in general were very happy people. The temple fairs, the various observances in the course of the year, were always very happy gatherings. And the Westerners came to the conclusion that Buddhists didn’t understand their own religion. If they really understood what the Buddha taught, they would be morose and horribly depressed. But instead they were happy.

So Westerners came up with a theory of what they called the great tradition versus the little tradition, i.e. the great tradition being what was in the texts and the little tradition being Buddhism on the ground. But what they really missed was the central message in the texts, which is that your happiness is in your hands. And that true happiness comes from behaving in a way that’s totally harmless. And not just harmless in the sense that you’re not going to hurt other people, but also that you’re going to positively do good by practicing generosity as an important part of the path. This is how the Buddha’s message is empowering. You can create a happy life by acting in ways that are noble and good.

You see this in the Buddhist tradition all the way from the time of the Buddha’s funeral. Even though the Buddha had just passed away, there was singing and dancing at his funeral in honor of him. On the one hand, people were sad that he had gone, but on the other, they were honoring the fact that they had been alive when there had been such a wonderful human being in the world. The same with the temple fairs in the very early centuries: They were very happy occasions because everyone got together to do good. Social caste didn’t mean anything. Everybody was working together, helping in line with their talents and abilities.

So it is possible to create a good society. Whenever one gathers around the principle that true happiness comes from being harmless, being helpful, training the mind — that’s empowering. And you don’t need to have political power in the world outside. You have the power to create your own world right here, right now through your actions.
From: In Charge of Your World by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

dhammapal
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Mon Mar 20, 2017 2:52 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:[The Buddha] simply taught basic principles for people who want to wise up: The first principle is to realize that your actions are important, that they make a difference, that they come from your ideas and intentions, and that they can be changed for the better. Second, focus on what really is your responsibility, and let go of things that are not. Third, train your mind to develop better and better answers to the question that focuses on what you're really responsible for: what you can do that will lead to your long-term welfare and happiness. Then take advantage of the tools the Buddha offers so that it's easier to give up the things that you like doing that are harmful, and to get yourself to do the things that are difficult but will lead to the long-term happiness you want.
From: Wisdom for Dummies by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

treyg21
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby treyg21 » Mon Mar 20, 2017 11:14 pm

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The furniture may be exquisite,
And the bars of solid gold,
But once the bird realizes that the cage is a cage,
It finds within that cage
No joy

- Ajahn Jayasaro

dhammapal
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Tue Mar 21, 2017 10:16 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:In the sutta on the frames of reference [DN22], the Buddha talks about being aware of the body in and of itself, either internally or externally. "Externally" means how the body relates to the world outside. In other words, you don't have to be only inside the body for it to count as Right Mindfulness. When you're dealing with other people, you need to have a frame of reference that includes the outside world but doesn't grab hold of it. You can stay tuned in to the body even as you're involved in dealing with other people, being sensitive to how those dealings register with the body. Then when you're sitting again with your eyes closed, you can make your frame of reference totally internal if you like. Or you can tune in to the sense of space that permeates the body and extends out in all directions.

So there are a lot of different things to tune in to that would qualify as the body in and of itself. It's important to realize this because sometimes we fall into an ironclad notion that only certain kinds of awareness count as mindfulness. We feel that we're strapped there and can't function. There are reports of people who go for long retreats where they've been working on only one kind of mindfulness for three months and when they come out they can't function. It takes them a couple of days to readjust to being in the outside world. Well, the Buddha didn't have us practice so that we couldn't function, couldn't adjust, couldn't adapt. He simply wants you to be conscious and deliberate about the way you adapt: the different levels, the different layers, the different frequencies you're tuning in to. If you can shift levels mindfully, you're okay.
From: Varieties of Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

dhammapal
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Wed Mar 22, 2017 2:18 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Ajaan Suwat’s quick and ready answer to the question as to what causes suffering was: “your likes” — things that you like to do, things that you like to focus on, that you like to enjoy. And those are very hard to give up because we tend to identify ourselves around them. We often feel that if we aren’t able to pursue our likes, then what’s the purpose of doing anything at all?

One of the purposes of concentration is to give you something better to like. Once you’ve got the sense of well-being that comes with the concentration, you realize that the pleasure that comes from this is the pleasure you’re looking for anyhow in all those other things, and it’s a lot more solid, a lot more reliable, and a lot more blameless. The mind is a lot clearer. This is the kind of pleasure that doesn’t require you to take anything away from anyone else. Then, using this, you can start looking back on those other desires and say, “I don’t really go for those anymore.” Things you used to like a lot: You’ve basically matured, you’ve outgrown them because you have a new range of skills.
From: Choose Your Cravings Wisely by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

dhammapal
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Fri Mar 24, 2017 6:08 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:[In AN8:53], the values of dispassion and being unfettered run counter to the pursuit of sensuality and to the sense of “I,” “mine,” “we,” and “ours” that underlie family life. The value of shedding runs counter to the domestic desire to accumulate as a protection against future lack; because this value includes the shedding of pride, it also runs counter to the desire for prominence in social affairs. The value of contentment runs counter to the domestic concern with accumulating wealth and stockpiling for the future; the value of modesty, counter to the desire for fame and recognition; and the value of seclusion, counter to the domestic desire to be surrounded by loved ones. The value of being unburdensome, on its face, coincides with the domestic value of frugality, but on a deeper level – in light of the fact that the act of creating a family places extra burdens on the environment to feed and support more people – it counsels celibacy as the ideal way to be unburdensome. Thus it runs directly counter to the domestic idea that the creation of a family is a gift to the world. As for persistence, both the Dhamma and domestic society value persistence in the pursuit of one’s aims, but they differ widely in their understanding of what those aims should be.

All of this means that the task of the Udāna is to convey – and make convincing – the countercultural message that the reader would be wise to focus on the drawbacks of many of the values and structures in which he/she has been nurtured since childhood, and to see the advantages of taking on a more demanding set of values in their place.
From: Udāna: Exclamations: Translator's Introduction by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

dhammapal
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Sat Mar 25, 2017 9:38 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:There’s a sutta [AN7:49]where the Buddha talks about different motivations for being generous. And the lowest one of course is, “I’ll get this back with interest.” But still that’s a good motivation. It’s better than saying, “I don’t see any need to be generous at all.” There’s so much of that out there. It’s when people begin to realize, okay, that if they really want to have wealth that lasts for a while, if they want to have well-being that lasts for a while, they’ve got to share. And that’s a meritorious motivation.

Now as you work up the levels of motivation, you finally get to the ones where it’s simply a natural expression of the mind. You say to yourself, “I give simply because it’s good to do this. The mind feels refreshed.” That, too, is a benefit you get from it.

So don’t look down on the idea that you’re going to get something out of this. Don’t think that it taints your merit or the goodness of your actions. It’s simply a matter of how refined you can make your sense of how you benefit from the generosity or how you benefit from the practice of virtue, how you benefit from the meditation. As your mind grows, it just gets more and more refined.
From: Don't Underestimate Merit by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Sun Mar 26, 2017 2:53 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:When we're creating a narrative out of our lives, we're trying to string together only the intentions that make sense, that seem to fit into a basic shape, but when you meditate, look at what you've got here: intentions running all over the place.

That's an important insight right there. Even though it's the dismaying insight that comes from seeing how unconcentrated your mind is, it's a valuable insight. If you take it to heart and use it skillfully, it'll help deconstruct any narratives that are getting in the way of your practice. This way you'll find it easier to settle down with less and less distraction. When you can let go of the narratives, there's really a lot here to discover. Whether the meditation goes well or not, whether it goes in line with your expectations or not, that's just another narrative.

The important thing is that you really look at what's right here, right now, particularly with regard to your intentions. You have your intention to stay with the breath, and, whoops, there's another intention going off someplace else. Bring your focus back to the breath. You've learned something about the mind right there. The act of bringing it back strengthens your original intention, strengthens your resolve, and the fact that you're able to catch the mind as it's wandering off strengthens your mindfulness and alertness.

So whether things are progressing at the rate you'd like to see in your ideal narrative, that's not the point. The point is that you're looking and you're learning. Sometimes you may have more lessons to learn than you originally thought, but if you don't start from where you are, where are you going to start from? If the picture of what your mind is doing in the present moment doesn't fit into your ideal narrative, maybe it's time to question the narrative and not get impatient with the present moment.
From: The Story behind Impatience by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Tue Mar 28, 2017 12:18 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:I once knew a journalist in Bangkok who asked me why Buddhism focuses so much on suffering. He said, “I don’t have any suffering in my life. Why all the talk about suffering?” So I asked him if he had any stress in his life and he said, “Oh yeah, lots and lots of stress.” And he proceeded to tell me all the different things in his family and his work that were stressing him out.

So regardless of what you call it, suffering or stress, if you’re not an arahant, you’re suffering from it. And it’s good to recognize that everybody is suffering in the same way. There are differences in the particulars, but deep down inside everybody has that same sense of being burdened, being overcome: pushed in ways they’d rather not be pushed, weighed down in ways they’d rather not be weighed down.
From: The Particulars of Your Suffering by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Wed Mar 29, 2017 1:02 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:In fact, the teachings themselves are meant to function as skillful thoughts toward the goal of Awakening. The Buddha was very clear on the point that he did not mean for his teachings to become a metaphysical system or for them to be adhered to simply for the sake of their truth value. He discussed metaphysical topics only when they could play a role in skillful behavior. Many metaphysical questions — such as whether or not there is a soul or self, whether or not the world is eternal, whether or not it is infinite, etc. — he refused to answer, on the grounds that they were either counterproductive or irrelevant to the task at hand: that of gaining escape from the stress and suffering inherent in time and the present.
From: Wings to Awakening by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Fri Mar 31, 2017 10:36 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:So for [the Buddha], the purpose of the meditation is not to celebrate oneness or to celebrate acceptance. It's to develop two very different kinds of emotions: disenchantment and dispassion. The Pali word for disenchantment, nibbida, also means distaste, disgust, or revulsion, which may sound strong, but it needs to be strong. It's an antidote to our strong attachment to feeding on things. That attachment, the Buddha said, is the essence of suffering. The word upadana, which means clinging, also means the act of eating, of taking sustenance. He says that upadana lies at the essence of suffering and stress. So what we need to learn is how to look at the things we feed on until we develop a strong sense that we don't want to feed on them anymore.
From: Disenchantment by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Sat Apr 01, 2017 11:34 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Take an interest in the present moment, because this is the most interesting part of your life. We tend to measure our life in terms of our plans for the future and our memories of the past. But the way your mind is shaping your life is happening right now. This is the only place where you can watch it in action and make a difference in the choices it’s making. So you want to do your best to find something in the present that keeps you interested and keeps you anchored here, so that you can watch the processes of the mind and see what really is skillful and what’s not.
From: The Essence of the Dhamma by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Mon Apr 03, 2017 2:27 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:So the ability to focus exclusively on what's happening right here, right now is a very useful skill. But it's not the only skill we have to develop while meditating. Some people want to make the whole meditation just that: being in the present moment. But that's only one of the skills we need to develop. There's also the skill of how to make the present moment a pleasant place to be. And that requires some memory of the past: what's worked in the past, what hasn't worked in the past. That's called the skillful use of the past. Just as there's a skillful use of the future — having a sense that this practice is going someplace, there's a direction to it, it's going to take you to total freedom.
From: One Step at a Time by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Mon Apr 03, 2017 11:14 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:It’s hard to tell your friends [after a one week meditation retreat], “You know, I maintained my mind in a state of normalcy for the entire week.” It doesn’t impress anybody. But you’re not here to impress people; you’re not here to impress yourself. You’re here to see things clearly. The best way to see things clearly is to get the mind into a state of stillness. We tend to think of the stages of jhana as very strong trance states, but actually they’re the mind in a state of genuine normalcy where it’s very perceptive, very clearly perceiving things as they are, as they come as they go, able to see distinctions. That’s what we’re working on, trying to keep the mind in a state of normalcy, as with all the elements of the path.
From: Normalcy by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Tue Apr 04, 2017 6:54 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:This is not to say the body’s a bad thing. After all, you’ve got to use the body for the practice. What you’re trying to cut through are all your unhealthy positive and negative images of your body. Unhealthy negative images center around the idea that, “It’s just me who’s ugly. My body’s not beautiful like all those other people I see in the media.” An unhealthy positive image is saying, “I’ve got this really cool body here. I’m pretty sharp. People find me attractive, so my body must make me better than other people.” Both of those are unhealthy because they lead to unhealthy mind states. A healthy positive image is that, “I’ve got a body that I can practice with.” A healthy negative image is one that says, “We’re all equal in terms of what we’ve got in our bodies and none of the parts are really all that attractive when you take them out. So the value of the body doesn’t lie in its appearance. It lies in what you do with it.”
From: Pleasant Practice, Painful Practice by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Thu Apr 06, 2017 12:50 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:We often hear the Buddha talking about how the five aggregates are stressful because they’re inconstant, and as a result we’re taught not to identify with them, but there are levels of the teaching where the Buddha says you don’t focus on that yet. You focus instead on the fact that some aspects of form, feeling, perception, mental fabrication, and consciousness are actually pleasant, and you want to pursue them for that pleasure.

There’s the pleasure of the precepts, the pleasure of generosity, both of which are conditioned things. There’s a pleasure in concentration, which is also conditioned, and you want to motivate yourself to look for that to provide you with nourishment on the path. If you just go ahead and say, “Well, everything is inconstant, stressful, and not self, so let’s just go beyond the concentration and move on to the next step, not bother with working on the concentration,” that just short-circuits the path. It starves the path. You’re gaining training in happiness, you’re gaining sensitivity in what it means to experience well-being, so that you’ll be able to recognize the ultimate well-being when it comes.
From: Examine Your Happiness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Fri Apr 07, 2017 12:42 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:What we’re doing here is working on developing the qualities inside that will find that happiness in the midst of a lot of change and uncertainty outside. There’s work to be done. There are things to be attained.

It’s important to remember that, because there are so many teachings out there that tell you otherwise — that there’s nothing to be attained, there’s no you there anyhow, so just let things arise and pass away, arise and pass away. Just sit there being choiceless and you’ll be okay — just kind of float through things and at the very end, everything just disappears like a bubble bursting innocently in the sunny air. But that kind of thinking negates our desire for true happiness and it negates everything that the Buddha taught. After all, he taught four noble truths. If it was just a matter of letting go, letting go, all we’d need is one noble truth. That noble truth would be, there’s nothing, so any time anything arises and it looks like something, just let it go — and that's it. Now, there are times when you have to be patient with things arising and passing away, but that’s because you want to learn about them to see what arises and what passes away, and what arises and passes away with it.
From: The Value of Effort by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Sat Apr 08, 2017 5:07 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Mindfulness is what connects cause and effect. If you don’t have any mindfulness — i.e., if you can’t remember what you did — you’re not going to be able to figure out how this feeling of pain or this feeling of pleasure is related to actions you did a while back and have forgotten about. So you try to keep in mind what you’ve been doing. If you see any suffering coming up in your experience, try to trace it back. “What action is this related to? What kind of attitude is this related to?” The fact that there’s pain in the body is a normal part of life, but the fact that there’s a pain in the mind is unnecessary. It doesn’t have to be there. So what’s causing the pain in the mind? If you can trace it back to an action — physical, verbal, or mental — then you’ve got a handle on things. You can end your uncertainty; you can end your bewilderment.
From: Virtue Contains the Practice by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Mon Apr 10, 2017 11:58 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:So here we are in the midst of a storm. But there’s something deep inside that doesn’t have to suffer from the storm, doesn’t have to be threatened by the storm. Even though we may reflect on the awesomeness of the powers of nature and how huge they are, there is something in the mind that’s even more enormous, more solid, than they are. It can be found through our own efforts, and it offers a security that you can’t find in any place — because it’s outside of places. There’s a recurrent phrase in the Canon of the arahant’s being "released everywhere," which means released from every where, every place. That idea’s awesome, too. The reality of it, once you’ve touched it, is even more awesome than the idea.
From: Awe by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:22 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:If, through our compassion, we could save other beings, then that would be a useful topic to focus on. But the problem is that each of us suffers because of our own lack of skill in dealing with pain. If we’d be willing to learn from the pain, then each of us could take care of our problems and there wouldn’t be issues in life at all.

So as you meditate, keep reminding yourself that you’re preparing yourself to deal intelligently and insightfully with issues of pain, suffering, disease in body and mind. Particularly in the mind. Pain in the body, as it turns out, is not the issue. We make it an issue that spreads into the mind. If pain simply arose in the body without our connecting it to any suffering or disease in the mind, it wouldn’t be an issue.

The problem is that the mind has laid claim to the body. After all, it needs the body to help manipulate the world to get what it wants out of it. So it has a sense of ownership, or at least it tries to assert ownership. But then it turns out that the thing it wants to own, the thing it wants to manipulate, has problems. And so it’s stuck. It can’t really let go but can’t really control it. As the Buddha pointed out, your sense of self comes from this sense of control. We can, to at least some extent, control the body. That’s why we assume that it’s us or ours. But then you run into the fact that your control isn’t complete. This is the source of a lot of the conversations and arguments and complaints in the mind.
From: The Humble Way to Awakening by Thanissaro Bhikkhu


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